The Department of Speculation — Jenny Offill

A funny, unflinching, beautiful take on marriage, motherhood and betrayal. A nameless woman, who is a writer and teacher, navigates the twists and turns of her family life and comes to terms with the fact that she isn’t the single ‘art monster’ she intended to be.

I love the second-person narration and fragmented style, which brings us so close to the main character but also holds us at a distance, so that we have to fill in the gaps. The effect is that you have a sense of what’s coming, but that (as with so many of life’s traumas, big and small) you often need it put right in front of you to fully grasp it — from the bed bug infestation to her husband’s affair.

It’s different in many ways, but Offill’s sparse, semi-poetic prose, reminds me a lot of Deborah Levy’s and, probably because it’s front of mind, her second memoir The Cost of Living in particular — both books being about pursuing purpose and art through turmoil in your personal life. And though the form could hardly be more different, Offill’s unflinching but deeply compassionate look at motherhood and marriage also made think a lot of Ducks, Newburyport.

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